Food as Medicine

Mom had open-heart surgery earlier this September. My sisters and I have been taking turns keeping her company in the hospital and bolstering the spirits of Papa, who won’t leave Mom’s side. Ignoring the residual fatigue left over from conducting the last round of my Dessert Tours, I’m constantly in touch with my dad, wanting to know what he feels like eating.

Maki Mi

Fresh Lumpia

My dad is a simple man and his food tastes reflect that. Wanting to feed him nutritious fare, I introduce him to the Fresh Lumpia of Spring by Ha Yuan. Its filling consists of various ingredients as thin and colorful as confetti. “Mmm, I like that the sauce isn’t too sweet,” Papa muses. But his eyes light up when I serve him a paper cup – no bowls to be found in the hospital – of Maki Mi. Curiosity turns to wonder as I watch him sip some of the viscous brown sauce, its shine coating the tangle of noodles clinging to the plastic utensils we’re using. “It’s like soup, wow, ambrosia!” My dad is the only person I know who uses that word, he’s been using it since I was a kid to describe food that makes an impression on him. When I tell him that the owner of Spring is my good friend, Suzy Lee, he smiles and says, “Thank her for me.”

Spending a lot of time in a hospital is like being in a bubble – time is irrelevant and news and emails viewed through a mobile phone or tablet seem like events happening on another planet. At one point, I even forget that I have a blog.

Mom is slowly getting her strength back. We help her to first sit up, then dangle her legs over the bed, then finally, she musters seemingly superhuman strength to toddle to the bathroom. Gripping my arm tightly, her breath is labored with each step. Early one morning at 5.30, Mom asks for a sponge bath, and as I run the washcloth over her, I can’t help but think that suddenly, our roles are reversed, and how much I want Mom to get better already.


As the days go by, my prayers are answered. Food still tastes metallic to Mom so she eats a little of everything, and I’m eager to give her what she craves for. First it was fried lumpia with lots of vinegar, then green tea of which I give her my favorite, a blend of high quality matcha mixed with lemongrass and ginger.

In my book’s introduction, I speak at length about my mom being the pivotal force in my food life. My palate is what it is today because of the wide variety of food she exposed me to as I was growing up, and our shared ardor for certain foods is inevitable. A good nut tart is one, and the Macadamia Tart from Fleur de Lys is a favorite. When owner Jackie Ang-Po hears that my mom is in the hospital, she sends over a butter cake and some Florentines from her shop – “something light for your mom” – and the said tart – “the tart is for you because I know it’s your favorite, to share with your mom.”

macadamia pie 2

My heart soars as Mom takes first one tentative bite, and then another and another. Soon, half the tart slice is gone. “Gosh, that was good,” Mom sighs, then grins. I eat what’s left of her slice. A buttery melding of sugar and vanilla heated to a hot embrace, marrying the macadamias to one another and buttressed by a shortcrust. I find myself sighing, then smiling too.

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The next day, Mom wants mooncake, something she’s liked for as long as I can remember. Suzy (mentioned above) makes the best I’ve ever had, and Mom likes the double yolk specimens as much as I do. Supple and soft, the egg yolks radiate in the red bean paste, elemental comfort glowing like optimism.

When I can leave Mom in the care of my sisters, I have to rush to attend to my other obligations. The past two weeks, it’s been a flurry of food consultancies and TV shoots. I only survive because I’m wickedly disciplined and I insist on sticking to a schedule.

fyi shoot - Lori Baltazar (1)

fyi shoot - Lori Baltazar (2)

At fyi, formerly known as bio, I demonstrate how to make an Apple Crisp for the channel’s baking segment, which will be shown in November. Every category (style, fashion, design, food, etc) has its own color scheme and mine is red. I adore the kitchen set they have for me and desperately want to run off with the SMEG refrigerator. (Yes, it works, and it’s filled to the brim with butter and cream!)

apple crisp 2

I’ve forgotten how good my Apple Crisp is. A recipe I share in my book, I’m able to eat a few spoonfuls during the actual shoot. Waves of spice cosseted in cream, the apples are crisp-tender as the streusel is crumbly.

I hardly eat – if at all – during a shoot, whether I be in front of or behind the camera. So when my good friend Chimm, texts after the shoot to say she’s visiting from New York, I head over to Wildflour to meet her and assuage my unflagging appetite and flailing spirit.

Wildflour breakfast

I have something called Walter’s Favorite and after I have it, I now want to call it Lori’s Favorite, Too. A pair of softly-boiled eggs sit staring up like headlights from the depths of a bowl. Immersed they are in a continuum of what initially tastes like a tang of tomato sauce giving way to hints of hollandaise. Scoop with a spoon or shovel in with strips of baguette, and smeared (or not) with strawberry jam for textural oomph-oh-so-good. It all comes with freshly-squeezed orange juice, black coffee, and because I’m running on empty, yet another coffee, this time a Vietnamese Latte. It’s magical talking to Chimm, hearing about her life in New York as an Arts & Entertainment attorney, a world that’s so different from mine.

As my two weeks wind down, I only have one more TV shoot to do. I happen to look at my face in the mirror and am dismayed at the rash creeping like poison ivy from my neck and up to my face. It must be stress. I rub on some medicated ointment like there’s no tomorrow. Then, because I have time, I head to my library to rip out a post. With dread, I realize it’s been almost two weeks since my last one.

I push my computer’s plug into the socket. Immediately, a flash of spark is followed by a crackly pop! Faltering with fatigue and nerves already on edge, I let out a shriek. An initial inspection reveals that my PC’s power supply is fried. Hopping around like a deranged Energizer bunny, I spew out choice profanities, each epithet crisper than the one before it. Our dog, Cupcake, scampers out of the library in terror.

My last commitment is a taping for The Clash: Search For The Next Great Dessert Master. A new baking contest that will air in November on the Lifestyle Network, I’m a guest-judge for one of the challenges. On TV, the frenzy is courtesy of the tack-sharp editing and tight shots. In reality however, the contestants or “Clashers” as they’re called on the show, really are given the stated amount of time to bake. For this segment, it’s one hour.

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Crowding around one clasher: the director, some of the producers, and FOOD Editor in Chief, Nana Ozaeta. You can see just how many people there are in the kitchen.

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An abundant and absolutely tempting display of ingredients for the Clashers to play with.

So there we are tiptoeing and trying our best to keep quiet and keep behind the cameras. I’m always surprised at just how many people are present when it’s a taping for TV, and how relaxed everyone is. There must’ve been about 30 people in the room. And because it’s a dessert show, there are plenty of chocolates and nuts for nibbling. Good thing, as I’m about to drop from growing hunger and well, it’s been what seems like an endless two weeks.

Thankfully, Mom has been released from the hospital and is recovering happily and steadily at home. I’ve been to my dermatologist and hopefully the new meds I’ve been prescribed will help my skin. And because you’re reading this post, my PC is now running on a new power supply. I’ve currently put myself on house arrest to reboot and recover. Because, just like my PC, I need to get my power supply back.

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